About Nancy J. Ondra

Nan with Duncan and Daniel I live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, about 40 miles north of Philadelphia (mid-Zone 6 to lower Zone 7, depending on whose map you use). Under the supervision of my two alpacas, Duncan and Daniel, I garden here at Hayefield on four acres in full sun: about two acres of managed meadow, one acre of pasture, and one acre of intensively planted garden and open shrubbery areas. This garden is entering its 14th year in 2015.

My previous place, a bit north of here, was just a fifth of an acre, and mostly shaded. Besides the garden and greenhouse, it was home to Pendragon Perennials, a tiny rare-plant nursery that I started in 1995 and closed in 2000, when I ran out of gardening space and sold that house.

I’ve had a lifelong love of plants, but it didn’t develop into a full-blown obsession until my late teens. I earned a B.S. degree in Agronomy and Environmental Science from Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, spending the summers working as a gardener on various estates in the Philadelphia area. I then worked at Rodale Press Garden Books as a Senior Associate Editor before leaving to work as a freelance garden-book writer, editor, and photographer.

I consider myself an equal-opportunity plant geek, but my current “thing” is colored foliage (specifically, variegated and chartreuse leaves). And ornamental grasses. And meadows. And herbs. And vegetables. Oh, and shrubs, too. And annuals, of course. Um…just about all kinds of outdoors plants, actually. I also enjoy raising plants from seed. That’s how I ended up starting a nursery at my last place. (When you’re growing from seed, it’s just as easy to pot up three dozen seedlings as it is to pot up three, you know.) Here, I’m never at a loss for places to put new plants.

Below are links to some of the books I’ve written. If you have any questions about my writings or images, feel free to e-mail me at nan (at) hayefield (dot) com. Please note that Hayefield is a private garden and not open for public tours.

Photo at top by Rob Cardillo.

37 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by scott on February 4, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    In your book, Foliage page 100 has a picture from VanDusen botanical garden. There is a purplish plant with no name or I could not find it. I even looked at Vandusen website for that picture. I thought it was Tradescantia pallida Purpurea but I think it is too tall. I wish I knew the name of that purplish plant.

    Hi Scott! You are right: It is Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’ (or T. pallida ‘Purple Heart’, or Setcreasea pallida, or S. purpurea, or whichever name you prefer). I have the height listed as 8 to 10 inches, but it can appear taller if it has taller companions to lean on.
    -Nan

  2. Hi Nan,

    I’ve enjoyed your website and would love to be able to add you to my “favorites!” However, when I follow your name, I don’t get your web address. Can you help me?

    Thanks, Shady! You mean the address for this blog, Hayefield? If so, it’s http://hayefield.com/

    If you’re looking for something else, please ask again!
    -Nan

  3. Posted by Ron Rabideau on March 7, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Hi Nancy,
    I did a search for Diervilla Cool Splash and found your comments from the flower show! I was responsible for getting those in the show. My friend Peter Podaras selected it from a seedling. I can e-mail you a history of it and some better pics(it’s near impossible to get good pics at the show) if you want. I’m trying to help Peter make some money- it’s tough trying to be a plant breeder! Peter forced those plants in his research greenhouse at Cornell. I drove all the way up there to bring them to the show. Got your foliage book, love it!
    Still have the variegated mock orange I got from your Pendragon days.
    Ron

    Hi Ron!
    Oh, how neat that you had a hand in getting that diervilla in the show. I’m not surprised that you’d appreciate it too. I’d love to have some better pictures; I’ll get in touch via e-mail.
    -Nan

  4. Posted by David Gelatt on May 2, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Nan! Awesome to see your site. I’m headed to Black Creek tomorrow and it was cool to see your page on it. My car looks like yours when I’m through there every year. Never started on the right though….might do that this year but fear I’ll have all my carts full of trops before I even hit the annuals.

    Hi David! It’s been too long. I’m glad you found me again. Have fun at Black Creek!
    -Nan

  5. Posted by Gerald on May 3, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    Gary and I were up to Hitch Lyman’s enchanting Snowdrop event and noticed your link on Ellis Hollow website – the mysterious man lurking in the background taking pics. That same evening we got back and noticed the pics, including me bending over gazing at a specimen, on the web. How small a world gardening is! Great to see your site and hope to see the real you soon!

    Hey, that *is* you! Small world indeed. I was just thinking of you: The peony you brought me last year has one bud ready to open, and those orange bearded irises have doubled in size since last year. Do come to visit them soon!
    -Nan

  6. Hey Nancy- I couldn’t believe I came across your blog. I miss your presence in the Lehigh Valley & our occasional “visits” Glad to see your latest endeavors and how well you are faring.
    Do you ever do garden tours? I may be teaching at LCCC and am always looking for “tours” .
    Have made good use of your Grasses books thru the years too- as I’m sure this website. Keep up the good works.
    Priscilla

    Hi Priscilla! How wonderful to hear from you. I’m glad to know that you’re still doing well. I probably won’t be opening my garden this year except for the Perennial Plant Association’s annual conference at the end of July. I’ve gotten involved in a new gardening project elsewhere, so my own garden isn’t my focus at the moment.
    -Nan

  7. Posted by Lynn Ericson on June 6, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Hi Nan
    I had the pleasure of meeting you at Linden Hill Gardens yesterday with the PHS group. I thank you for autographing your book, Foliage (which I thoroughly enjoy). In your opening remarks, you mentioned Sandy White. Since moving to Skippack 3 years ago, I have become a steady customer at Floral and Hardy. I was saddened to see that she has sold her business, but once an avid gardener, always an avid gardener. I enjoyed her enthusiasm and extreme knowlege of the plant world. I shall miss her, but I’m glad she has good friends like you. Once again, thanks for the pleasure of meeting you and Jerry yesterday. A most wonderful day at Linden Hill Gardens. Lynn

    I’m so glad you visited me here, Lynn. Yes, it was a lovely day at Linden Hill for us too. I’m delighted that you’re enjoying the book. I’m stunned to hear about Floral & Hardy, though; I had no idea it was sold. How very sad!
    -Nan

  8. Nan, Somehow I’ve missed my listing for Gardening Gone Wild topics!!! Can you help me? Thanks!

    Hey, Shady! I’m not sure I understand your question, so I sent you an e-mail directly. This month’s topic is Decks, Porches, and Patios, if that’s what you’re asking.
    -Nan

  9. Nice article about you and your garden in the NYT! I saw a link on GGW but you need one here, too, for your many fans!

    Hey, El Deb! Thanks for stopping by. Ok, ok, here’s a direct link to Anne’s article Where Foliage Eclipses Flowers.
    -Nan

  10. Hi, Nancy,

    I like your book about Grasses : versatile partners for uncommon garden design – A Chinese editor of Journal of Chinese Horticulture and Landscape in Beijing invites you wrote a review paper about ornamentam grass for their journal – your any reply are much appreciated, and thank you in advance.

    I am Jinshuang MA, a research taxonomist at Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Brooklyn, NY 11225.

    Thank you so much for the message. I will contact you directly by e-mail.
    -Nan

  11. Hi
    I just found your site as I was trying to locate “wild or perrenial potatoes”. Great Site!! I will be a regular visitor for sure. And if you happen to know of the type of potatoes I am looking for, any info will be greatly appreciated. Thanks Kenneth

    Welcome, Kenneth! Apparently it’s not unusual for potato tubers to overwinter in the garden in Zone 7 and south – or so I’m told – so technically, I guess you could say they are all tender perennials. So far, I don’t know of any sources for “wild” seed or tubers. Sorry I can’t be more help.
    -Nan

  12. Thanks for the tour.

    Thanks to you for stopping by!
    -Nan

  13. Love your books. I have a question for a column I’m writing on fall flowers and you’re the brainy one that might have the answer. Botanically speaking, what is the advantage for a plant to bloom so late in fall? Why does that work them as opposed to spring or summer?
    In other words, what’s in for them?

    Hmmm…I think about that and get back to you via e-mail, Cindy.
    -Nan

  14. Posted by joco on October 15, 2008 at 4:51 am

    Ohhhhhhh, you’ve got llama’s. How wonderful. I am surrounded by sheep and wish I could wave a magic wand and turn them into llama’s or vicuna’s.
    Eight acres to care for. I know what that feels like ;-)

    Wow, fields full of vicunas – that *would* be something to see!
    -Nan

  15. Nancy,
    I just put a review of Fallscaping up on my blog, http://www.commonweeder.blogspot.com. It also ran in my weekly column in The Recorder in Greenfield, MA. I will shortly get the cover art up. I loved the book and your blog. You are so knowledgeable!

    Wow, Pat! Thanks ever so much for the thorough and enthusiastic review. I’m glad you enjoyed the book!
    -Nan

  16. Nancy,
    Couldn’t find an email address, so post my general comment here (but feel free to remove).

    So many bloggers have these huge pictures, which I am afraid to open as it takes 30 mins to appear on my dial up, and I rarely want to see them anyways.

    But yours….. so gorgeous, and so small :-(

    Could you see your way clear to have the separate page picture a touch bigger from time to time? Especially the breathtaking ones on bloomdays?

    Thanks for your comment, Joco. I’ll see if I can figure out how to do that!
    -Nan

  17. Nancy. I have really enjoyed your books on Grasses and Fallscaping. I came across your blog through Gardening Gone Wild. What great resources! I’m anxious to pick up Foliage next. Keep up the great work and thank you for your contibutions to the gardening world.

    Wow, Adam, thanks so much! I’m glad you found Hayefield, and I hope you visit again.
    -Nan

  18. Nan, thank you for your very kind (and prompt!) response. I’m so new at the blogging that I hadn’t realized that dirtonthekeys had members-only restrictions on commenters. No more; it’s a big-tent blog now. Whew, and thanks.

    Say, I was startled and impressed to get the fuller sense of your amazing productivity. I’ve had your Taylor’s Roses book for years; it’s the reality-testing for all my British rose books. Only just now did I get past the “Taylor’s” name and register that YOU were the actual author. Oh my: How do you accomplish so much? (Or perhaps you’re not also creating gardens for so many clients, like me, so you’ve got that much more time for writing? Sigh.)

    (Taking a few restorative minutes away from the intensive Christmas-morning-with-the-inlaws festivities here.)

    Thanks for your inspiring as well as educational writing. You’ve enabled me to confidently recommend and enjoy all kinds of roses in my client-driven creations that I might not have explored otherwise. –Louis

    How cool, Louis! Hearing that the book has been so useful to you is the highest praise I could get. Writing (as well as editing) is my main job, and it has been so since I went freelance almost 14 years ago. I average one book a year, so they add up.

    Happy holidays!
    Nan

  19. I found you through Garden Rant, and just want to thank you for doing what you do! I am taking some courses in Landscape Design and your blog is fun and oh so valuable. Also, I took your book ‘Grasses’ out of the library just recently to review, and I just loved it! It is a must have in my gardening library! I will be sure to check out your others.
    Thanks so much again!

    A pleasure to meet you, Cindy! It was so nice of you to visit here and comment. I’ll be over to return the visit soon!
    -Nan

  20. Posted by gregorio on July 13, 2009 at 8:24 am

    I Nan , my name is Gregorio , i’m from Italy , tuscany
    and i follow your blog , it’ so intersting and so full of ideas ,very inspiring …i’m going to order your book fallscaping .
    if you want, look at this website where there are some photos of my terrace!

    http://www.compagniadelgiardinaggio.it/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=17440

    How exciting to have you as a visitor, Greg. I looked at the photos and love your terrace garden. I admire the natural look of your planters, and your planting style too. I see you even have metal spirals as accents; I have those too! Even though we live far apart, I’d say that we have lots in common. Great to meet you, my fellow gardener!
    -Nan

  21. Posted by Brian Donovan on August 6, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Hi, Nan. This e-mail comes from Ireland.

    I was sent an e-mail from amazon.co.uk (UK based) about your new book, and I wanted to about the content. How much relates to vegetables and herbs? Do you take year-round growing into account at all?

    Best of luck–I’ve ordered the book and am looking forward to its arrival.

    Sláinte,

    Brian Donovan

    Thanks for your message, Brian. I’ll be in touch by e-mail.
    -Nan

  22. Posted by Kathleen on November 2, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Recently I had the honor of meeting Rob, a truly talented and gentle man. He spoke so highly of you I just had to have your books. They are all he said they would be.

    How lovely, Kathleen! Thank so much for stopping by.
    -Nan

  23. Posted by Kathleen on November 3, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Just in case you can’t read my mind, the Rob I am referring to in Rob Cardillo.

    Heh – I knew who you meant, Kathleen. Is there really more than one Rob? He needs no other name, kind of like Martha or Madonna, right? (He’ll probably be mortified if he ever reads this!)
    -Nan

    • Posted by Kathleen on February 23, 2010 at 6:05 pm

      Nancy,
      I just found out you will be the one to interview me for Country Gardens magazine…how cool is that!!!

      Very cool, Kathleen! I’ll be in touch by e-mail.
      -Nan

  24. Posted by Pat on February 22, 2010 at 9:35 am

    I live not too far from you, in Montgomery County, and am looking for nurseries that carry more unusual varieties of perennials. Do you know of any website or publication that lists local nurseries – particularly in Bucks, Montgomery and Lancaster Counties? I visit Black Creek every spring (sometimes more than once!) and find they carry more varieties than most nurseries, but I still have a long list of plants that I would like to try but have been unable to find. The shipping costs of mail-order sites tend to be outrageous if purchasing only 1 or 2 plants. Also, have you ever stopped at Conestoga Nursery on Route 625 in East Earl? This is a great place for trees and shrubs.

    Hello Pat! Check out Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville (on the other side of Lake Nockamixon). You can find the directions at http://www.lindenhillgardens.com.
    -Nan

    • Posted by Pat on February 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm

      I should have thought of Linden Hill! I visited a few years ago and joined Jerry on one of his garden walks. I didn’t find a great selection back then, but it sure looks like they have grown in the past few years. (I think he was only open weekends at that time) I will be sure to stop by this spring!
      Pat

      I hope you enjoy your visit, Pat.
      -Nan

  25. Posted by Lynn Mueller on March 5, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Dear Nancy,

    Amazingly wonderful surprise to stumble across your website to learn what a rich and interesting path you’ve had since the old days at “Del Val!”
    I think of you and Ann often and MacGuyver night!

    Cheers,
    Lynn
    Barness 105

    Lynn! How great to hear from you. It’s been a long time since our college days. I’ll e-mail you.
    -Nancy

  26. Loved looking at all your yellow flowers. My garden in the mountains of N.C. is
    just about all shade and it is hard to find many plants that will flower in the shade. Have been looking for a plant called cordalis lutes that seems to grow all over Europe, but can’t seem to find it here. You wouldn’t happen to know where I could get such a thing would you? Love your web site.
    val

    Thanks, Val. I’ll be in touch by e-mail.
    -Nan

  27. Posted by zoya on April 8, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Dear Nancy!
    I am a longtime follower, I read you blog and the GGW religiously.
    I wanted to ask if you provide design services for folks who do not have that gene.

    You would think after the Front Yard Design workshop I should be able to do something with my front yard.
    But hélas – I am not able to come up with anything that I like.

    zoya

    Greetings, Zoya! Honestly, I don’t consider myself a designer. I know what works in my own garden, but I don’t have formal design training. If you let me know where you live, I may be able to suggest some other resources for you. Good luck!
    -Nan

  28. Posted by Donna on January 18, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Nancy, I loved your garden photos and your color palette in the October 2010 issue of Fine Gardening. I would love to try a few of your chosen plants in my own garden this year, but I have spent 2 hours on the internet searching for the “Aztec Orange” zinnia and have not found one source yet for that plant. Would you possibly share your source? Thank you, Donna (upstate New York gardener)

    Thanks so much, Donna. I get ‘Aztec Orange’ (and most of my other seeds too) from Pinetree Garden Seeds. Here’s a link:

    https://www.superseeds.com/products.php?search=aztec%20orange

    -Nan

  29. Nan, I popped over to the boys’ page…. they are adorable! Such amazing sweeties!

    Thanks, Cathy! They certainly think they’re adorable and are always happy when others agree.
    -Nan

  30. Posted by M. Hay on April 9, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    I have been a casual gardener up until this last year with more free time to really get my hands dirty. This book is the best manual on when to plant and what to do at the end of the season. None of my other landscaping/gardening books tell you what to do with the plants and how to take care of them. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who gardens. I even bought a copy for my daughter!

    Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you’ve found The Perennial Care Manual of use!
    -Nan

  31. Posted by Teshia O. on May 21, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Hi Nan! I’m new to your blog but am LOVING it! I had to go out and buy several new plants after devouring your site! :) I’ll be getting your books soon, too.

    Quick question. In one of your entries (the one regarding Amsonia Blue Star), there was a picture of the gorgeous Violet Queen Crocus w/ the blue star behind it. Can you tell me what is in front of the Crocus? Thank you!!

    Hi there, Teshia. I’m delighted to hear that you’re enjoying the blog!

    The ground cover under the colchicum is Chocolate Chip ajuga (Ajuga reptans ‘Valfredda’).
    -Nan

    • Posted by Teshia O. on May 21, 2011 at 9:44 pm

      Thank you so much for the quick reply! I looked it up – LOVE IT!

      I am trying desperately to create a garden just a fraction as gorgeous as yours. Trouble is, I’m a complete novice, just started gardening a few weeks ago!

      I’m a little (a lot) confused as to how I create something so full when so much space needs to be given for each plant?

      I was told to plant in odds (as a general rule of thumb) so I’m typically buying three of each plant. How did you begin your garden (laying everything out)? How do you suggest I lay things out? I have a fairly decent area I’m working with. I have the following plants (trying to recall off the top of my head, and I may not have the correct name). I started off w/ a lot of smaller (up to 18″ plants) plants, which I kind of regret after realize a cottage garden is definitely my cup of tea. These plants are all new – either just planted (which I already want to move several after reading through your site) or waiting to go in.

      several Black Eyed Susans, 3 Brunnera, 3 Jacob’s Ladder (Stairway to Heaven), 3 Butterfly Weed, 2 Butterfly Bush, 4 different sedums (the large kind, not ground cover, including the Autumn Joy), 1 hydrangea (never ending summer), 3 lupine, 3 salvia (two pink, one purple), 7 astilbe (lavender and white), 3 goats beard, 3 Amsonia blue star, 1 blue fescue, 1 Little Joe Pye, several sneezeweed, 4 purple coneflower, 4 white coneflower, several different lilies, 2 bee balm, several Lavender Lady, 5 white wood aster, 3 coral bells (the ones w/ the burgundy leaves) and 3 Yarrow Pomegranate. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Oh, a yellow rose bush and a Honeysuckle vine.

      I am also planning on getting some ornamental grasses (Karl Foerster, Diamond Grass, etc.), the Ajuga now that you told me what that was and whatever else you think is a must have. We have a huge boulder that has a natural bird bath so I’m trying to make that a focal point as well. So far I planted a lilac tree next to it (can move it easy enough) and three coneflowers.

      I should probably say .. I am in NH so hardy for us is zone 3 and 4. Zone 5 most likely won’t survive. Thank you so much for any thoughts and/or ideas you have! I will take anything I can get! Please don’t hesitate to tell me to get rid of some of these … I can easily put them somewhere else (we’re on 8 acres). THANK YOU!

      Oh, there’s so much I could tell you, Teshia, but there’s simply not room or time here. For starters, you may want to check out some of my books: specifically The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer and The Perennial Care Manual.

      I’d started typing out a bunch of other things I’d like to share with you as a new gardener (you have so much fun ahead of you!), but after an hour, I realized that my response was *much* too long for this space. So, I’m planning to use it as the basis for my next blog post, in your honor. Look for it around the end of the month. Thanks so much for the inspiration!
      -Nan

  32. Posted by Teshia O. on May 22, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Aww!! Thank you!! I came on here just to see if you had replied, I’m super excited to see your next entry! I will definitely be buying your books as well!

    After nearly two weeks of rain, I am getting outside to try and get some gardening in. I sure hope I do it justice! I think I’ll be removing the Jacob’s Ladder and Brunnera (to another spot, since they are so small). I picked up the Ajuga this morning and of course ended up w/ several Jeepers Creepers (can’t recall which ones but I will post later). I wish there was a way I could show you pictures of what I’m working on! Thank you again!

    Think about starting a blog of your own, Teshia. It’s a fantastic way to keep a visual record of your projects and progress!
    -Nan

  33. Posted by mimi on June 8, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Nan your books are the best gardening books and have been so inspiring to me! I have always oohhed and awed over gardens at conservatories and botanical gardens. My first attempt at gardening has only been 2 years and with your inspiring photos and advice now my garden is getting oohed and awed by others! thanks!

    Hi there, Mimi! How great that you found your way here. Thanks ever so much for your lovely comment. I wish you loads of happiness as your garden grows.
    -Nan

  34. Posted by Pat D. Langille on July 13, 2011 at 4:01 am

    I bought this book when I first started my perennial garden, never having gardened before. It guided me in soil preparation, siting, and plant selection in those early days, and it has continued to be a reference tool ever since. If you’re just starting out, buy this along with Maconovich’s Caring For Perennials and you won’t need a single other book. If you’re a seasoned gardener, my advice is still the same!

    Wow – thanks so much, Pat! Which book are you referring to – The Perennial Care Manual?
    -Nan

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